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Free H1N1 Vaccine Offered This Week

As fears subside, 4,000 doses become available

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Students can receive the H1N1 vaccination, available free on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Photo by Vicky Waltz

After a delay of nearly three months, Boston University Student Health Services has received a shipment of 4,000 doses of H1N1 vaccine. The vaccine will be available free to students on a first-come, first-served basis this week: today, from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., at the George Sherman Union, Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., both days at the Fitness and Recreation Center.

“It was a long wait,” says Peter Fiedler (COM’77), vice president for administrative services. “Demand was high, and we were at the mercy of the suppliers, but it’s finally here.”

With flu season well along, students may be tempted to forego the vaccination, but Fiedler advises otherwise. “Flu season is still in full swing,” he says, “and health officials are predicting that a third wave of the H1N1 virus will strike sometime in late January or early February.”

Classified last June by the World Health Organization as the first flu pandemic since 1968 (when the Hong Kong flu was responsible for the deaths of an estimated one million people), H1N1 — or swine flu, as it’s commonly called — has killed approximately 13,000 people worldwide and infected hundreds of thousands.

University health officials have identified 373 cases of what is being referred to as influenza-like illness (ILI). But because Student Health Services does not test for flu, it’s impossible to know if those cases were H1N1 or seasonal flu. There are no current reported cases of ILI on campus.

Even so, “I don’t think we’ve seen the end of H1N1,” Fiedler says. “Flu season typically lasts through April, and if last year is any indication, we could still be seeing H1N1 as late as May or June.”

In keeping with national trends, University reports of ILI symptoms spiked during late October, then saw a dramatic drop-off during late November. The totals were fewer than anticipated, and Fiedler credits members of Facilities Management and Planning for the low numbers.

“They worked hard to install new towel dispensers, touchless water faucets, and Purell dispensers throughout campus,” he says.

There was also a run on seasonal flu vaccinations, which likely helped. Chris Valadao, Student Health Services assistant director and business manager, says the clinic vaccinated 7,000 students last semester, up from 1,500 in previous years. “It was our biggest flu campaign ever,” he says.

Valadao could not say whether all 4,000 doses of H1N1 vaccine will be dispensed, but because demand has decreased, he says, “there should be no problem getting more doses if we need them.”

H1N1 symptoms include a fever — generally 103 or higher — body aches, cough, sore throat, and intestinal discomfort. On average, patients recover within three to seven days, but for people already in a weakened condition, the flu can be fatal.

Students experiencing flu-like symptoms should isolate themselves, says Fiedler. The University has set aside 60 rooms for sick students, and he advises infected students whose families live within a reasonable distance of campus to go home if they can get there without using public transportation.

To date, about 60 million (or one in six) Americans have received the H1N1 vaccine. Until mid-December, a shortage of the vaccine led health officials to inoculate only those at high risk, iamong them pregnant women, children, and health-care workers. But as demand for the vaccine dropped, supplies have increased.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends vaccination for anyone older than six months. As with any influenza vaccine, the usual precautions apply with H1N1, including for those who have egg allergies. It takes approximately 14 days from inoculation for the vaccination to be effective.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

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